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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Lawyer in bid to end army role in AK-47 searches
Stabroek News

Army Chief of Staff Brigadier General Edward Collins was yesterday ordered by the High Court to show cause why he and the GDF should not immediately desist from exercising public law power or authority in operations to recover a large amount of missing weapons.

It was the latest gambit in the legal manoeuvring by lawyers over 33 missing AK- 47s which has seen the army and the police raiding several prominent businesses in operations that have transfixed the country.

Attorney-at-law Vic Puran through his lawyers Nigel Hughes, Glen Hanoman and Mishka Puran made the application for an order or rule nisi of prohibition before Justice William Ramlal yesterday who then directed Chief of Staff Collins to show cause today at 2 pm why he should not make an order for the army to desist from such operations.

Puran, who represents several of the persons whose properties have been searched, has applied for the ruling on the ground that the active involvement of members of the army in such operations in civil society, whether as joint principals with the police or not, is unlawful and is without or in excess of their lawful authority.

The latest bid by the lawyers followed a string of other actions they have launched since the March 19 searches by the joint services who have said that they are attempting to recover the 33 AK-47s and five pistols that went missing from the Camp Ayanganna storage bond.

On Saturday the same judge granted another order nisi for police commissioner, Winston Felix to show cause on April 10 why the judge should not quash the wanted bulletins issued for businessman, Roger Khan, Gerald Pereira and former policemen, Paul Rodrigues and Ricardo Rodrigues. That action came after the four through their lawyers, Puran and Hanoman, sent a letter to the commissioner saying they had no confidence in the police force he heads and that the police had no authority to issue wanted bulletins for anyone for questioning. Demanding an apology, the three told the commissioner that if they had any evidence to charge them for any crime they could indicate this to their lawyers who would ensure that they attend court. The police had issued the bulletin saying they wanted to question the men in connection with a number of illegal items that were found during the March 19 weekend searches. Crime Chief Henry Greene wrote back to the lawyers advising them that the police had the power to ask the men to go in for questioning and urged that if they knew where their clients were they should turn them in or they could be held accountable.

Yesterday, Stabroek News asked Greene if the police were actively looking for the four and he indicated that they were but they could not be found. He said the men were apparently in hiding as they have not been seen anywhere.

In an affidavit in support of his application for the order yesterday, Puran said that on March 19 he was retained by his client to witness a search being conducted at his business premises situated at Lot 16, Bel Air Village, Georgetown but his attempt to do so was blocked by army personnel. He said after identifying himself he was told that he could not witness the search and that he should go to Camp Ayanganna to make enquiries but he refused telling the soldiers that the GDF has no power to stop, search or detain on land.

The lawyer said he requested to speak to one of the three police officers he saw but was told that the operation was being conducted by the army and that he could not speak to the policemen but if he wished he could contact the commissioner of police.

The lawyer said he told an army rank that the country is not at war and that the GDF's conduct is illegal. He said he then went to Police HQ, Eve Leary to make a report and was referred to the duty officer who refused to take his report. It was while he was at Eve Leary that the police brought in former policemen Otis Grant and Roger Denny and the escorting officer informed Superinten-dent Thomas that the GDF had requested that the police escort the two to army headquarters but the two had refused.

Book them

After it was established that the men were not wanted, "…a bright young policeman said 'Book them for tint.'"

The lawyer said since March 19 the army has been and is continuing to conduct operations in civil society for the stated purpose of the recovery of the weapons stolen. He said soldiers have been searching the persons of civilians, seizing their private property and occupying their private premises.

The lawyer said that under the Defence Act Collins has legal responsibility for all operations conducted by members of the force.

Puran said that as a civilian he is, "…aggrieved by the unlawful and oppressive conduct of members of the Guyana Defence Force and their unlawful involvement in the current joint services operations in civil society and I pray that this Honourable Court will be pleased to grant me the reliefs sought in the Notice of Motion hereunto attached."

Meanwhile, Crime Chief Greene and Hughes have been exchanging letters after the lawyer moved to the court over army and police personnel who were occupying Ricardo Rodrigues' 24 Bel Air Garden home.

Hughes on behalf of the man's father, Mario Rodrigues, had moved to the court and Justice Ramlal on March 30 had ordered that the law enforcement officers remove from the premises.

However, the following day Greene wrote Hughes informing him that consequent to a search done at a building owned by Rodrigues, the police aided by the Guyana Defence Force in keeping with its duty to protect property unoccupied and unclaimed, maintained a security presence.

"This was intended to ensure that persons do not unlawfully occupy or interfere with the property, it having been searched. Efforts to contact your client at two other premises proved futile.

"The police are prepared to hand over the building to the owner, or to any other person, properly identified, and lawfully authorised in writing", the crime chief who signed the letter for the commissioner, said.

Hughes responded to Greene on Monday and said that that property was in the possession of the contractors who were effecting civil works at the time of the arrival of, and occupation by the officers.

"We have been informed by the contractors that the civil works are incomplete and they are keen to honour their contractual obligations to the plaintiff without incurring further penalty," the lawyer said.

It was expected that contempt proceedings would have been served on Greene and Commissioner Felix yesterday afternoon, but this newspaper understands that the lawmen vacated the building at around 5 pm yesterday. The contempt proceeding is expected to be heard by Justice Ramlal today.

And in yet another court matter Hanoman has asked Justice Ramlal to order the police to show cause why it should not release the bullet proof pick-up, BGG 7539, which he says belong to DreamWorks Development Inc, owned by Roger Khan. He said that the vehicle was removed from the Lot 16 Bel Air Village location on March 19. The application was made on behalf of the company's secretary, Phillip Piggott and Justice Ramlal has ordered that the police show cause on April 10 why the vehicle should not be released.

Last month the police had said that no one had come forward to claim ownership of the bullet-proof vehicle. It was the same vehicle that had been in police custody before but which was released a few months after being seized in 2002.

Observers had said that the police should attempt to ascertain also whether the bullet-proof vehicle could have been the one involved in a drive-by shooting in Buxton last year August when Delon Headley was killed on his way to the shop.

Headley was killed and several others injured when a pick-up had raced up the Railway Embankment and sprayed the area with bullets.

In December 2003 three men were intercepted by a Guyana Defence Force (GDF) patrol in the Good Hope Housing Scheme, East Coast Demerara while allegedly standing in close proximity to a blue Ford bullet-proof pick-up in which weapons and electronic accessories were found.

A senior police officer had told Stabroek News in 2003 that although all of the items were initially confiscated, the accessories and the bullet-proof vehicle were subsequently released. A legal expert had told Stabroek News that there was no law preventing a person from installing bullet-proof features on a vehicle since the law allowed for a citizen to take measures to ensure his own safety.

This newspaper understands that the army in conjunction with the police continued searches on Monday night and through yesterday outside of the city. It is not clear exactly where the searches are being conducted but this newspaper understands that it was in remote areas and that illegal items have been found. Neither the police nor the army would comment on the issue.